I first read The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan (the third book in the Trials of Apollo series) in June 2018. This review was originally posted on my Goodreads account. Some minor edits have been made to the content of this review.
The Burning Maze keeps up the quality of the previous books — funny quips, a fast-paced adventure, and some excellent character moments. I’d even say this book raises the stakes beyond what’s happened in the other two. It keeps the reader’s interest and, upon finishing, leaves them desperately wanting more.
I’ve loved watching Apollo’s character continue to shift and change as he learns more and more about what it is to be mortal. This especially becomes significant in this book, when he has a huge moment of self-sacrifice that promises even more development in the future. Not to mention the things he witnesses this time, which definitely affect and sober him. He learns about grief in this book in a way he never has as a god. It’s great to see the transitioning, more than ever, of Apollo’s personality.
Meg’s part in this is great too. We see her dealing with some of the fallout from what she’s been through up to now, and I quite enjoy seeing her interactions with Apollo as their bond deepens. She isn’t quite as major a player in this one, due to who they’re facing, but the shadow of her past trauma is always looming, teasing both us and her. This book serves to add to her depth and strength and skills, and it sets up nicely for further growth in the following installments.
The other characters, both new to us and familiar, are excellent. The old faces were nice to see again, and I love that Riordan is never afraid of injecting a bit of reality into their “happily-ever-after-after-stopping-the-apocalypse” (as he did with Leo and Calypso in book two). The lives of these characters we know are given some firm grounding in something closer to our world, at least emotionally, as we see them trying to adjust to life after such major quests. one conversation in particular — Apollo says it is one of the most positive interactions he has with someone he finds to be a kindred spirit — is so relatable for any young person facing change and searching for their identity, and Riordan handles the scene so well, as he always does.
The main new faces (I say new, though in fact “old” is probably most accurate for most of them) are also great. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t read this yet, but the third emperor does not disappoint! He’s sinister and cruel without being too much of a caricature or cliché. As Apollo says at one point, this man’s sanity, rather than insanity, is what makes him scary. The other main foe they face is also interesting and intense. And among the several new characters (the truly “new” ones in this case) one stands out as a favorite of mine. He plays a small part in this, but an important one, both for the plot of this book and for Apollo’s own emotional journey.
Overall, Riordan again shows in The Burning Maze just how skilled he is at weaving subtle character development with an enjoyable, engaging plot. The elements of Greco-Roman mythology and history that we don’t know much about are informative without being boring. In fact, these moments can be some of the most interesting sections of the book. The humor and mild absurdity that have become trademark in his books is still present and as quirky-fun as ever. And the end of the book leaves the reader frantically turning pages to theorize and moaning about how far in the future the publication of book four is.
I can’t wait to see what Riordan has in store for us and for Apollo — the man has me wrapped around his finger at this point. And if anyone thinks that’s a weird thing for a twentysomething adult to say, fight me 😉
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